In this comment wax eagle asked me for the purpose behind my question.

OK, I guess my question is, what are you hoping to learn from this? Is this a simple attempt to find the article? Or is there a purpose behind the question? I feel like if you have a purpose beyond finding the article the trappings of the question rob it of standing. Does that make sense?

Q1: So, are questions supposed to state an editorial purpose, and cannot simply be a request for information? It does seem that would make this less of an "academic Q&A" site.

Q2: Is this one of the rules that a moderator candidate would be expected to enforce?

  • purpose is simply "what are you hoping to learn" that's not really articulated anywhere but why would you ask if you didn't want to learn something. Standing is basically "is your purpose relevant to this site?" and generally if the purpose is clarified the standing becomes obvious.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 1:48

3 Answers 3


Generally, questions that ask "could you find a this for me? I know it exists" are off topic on all stack exchange sites. These are typically referred to as "shopping questions" and the policy is based on the blog post here.

However, my objection to your post was not actually that it was asking for a resource. It was the fact that it was making an unsourced assertion, and then asking for the source. To take a hyperbolic example that would be like me saying "I know you killed him, now show me the body." Can you see how I objected to that?

All questions should have some kind of purpose. To me, and this is the way that I moderate, I should be able to read a question, and understand fairly quickly what the OP is hoping to learn from it. Because ultimately Stack Exchange's purpose is to learn (and to trick you into becoming a better writer, but that's not topical).

Let's deconstruct a bit and look at your question and see if we can tell what you're hoping to learn.

You start with an assertion, you think you read an article once that said X, and then you go on to give the argument of the theoretical article. Then you ask for confirmation of the historical event (did you try to confirm it yourself?). Then you make another assertion that isn't sourced, and then a reference back to the previous unsourced historical event through the lens of the unsourced assertion. And then you ask if there are any similar historical events.

I don't actually see a question here other than a request for a list of other historical events that match the profile of your hypothetical unsourced memory. Do you see how I might wonder why this question has standing?

In the comments you say the following:

But it is interesting question as it speaks to how one's view of scriptural revelation can have unexpected effects on interacting with a pluralistic society. (here)

That's great, but what's the question? That sounds like a discussion starter, which is not what we're about here.

The "Don't Ask" page on the help Center says:

If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here. However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK.

That said, there is dispute over the standing of the question, and you brought it to meta. Kudos, that's the site working as it should.

That's my read of the situation.

Now, your questions:

Q1: If a reader can't tell what you're trying to learn, how can they teach you?


Q2: Regardless of whether or not you're elected, you have a choice to make on every single question you see, should this question stay open or should it be closed. While you do not have sufficient reputation to vote to close questions, you do have the power to flag questions and by doing so will place them in the close vote queue. The fact is that these decisions are not and should not be reserved for moderators.

I've withheld that judgement for the time being on your question because at this point you're a member with some measure of standing and should get the benefit of the doubt. However, the more I read it, the more I think it should be closed. So far no one agrees with me and I'm just hesitant enough that I don't want to act alone on it (partially because I've now been at least tangentially accused of impropriety and I'd like to have another moderator review it).

UPDATE: discussed with the other mods and we've chosen not to unilaterally close this question. This is why there are multiple moderators on every stack exchange site. To temper the crazies like me.


I'm not certain what he was asking (I think he just wants to know why you want to know), but I do see a potential issue with the question: you have no source for the claim, but the statement "Whereas here, a sincerely-held belief about the nature of biblical revelation motivates one to do something that seemingly only 'opponents' of the Bible would support" implies that the claim is known to be true.

In my mind, when I see a statement without backing that reflects poorly on a group of people, I wonder what motivates that statement -- are you trying to put Catholicism down or do you sincerely wonder if it's true? Are you only looking for evidence the claim is true, or also looking for why they did so (which is what the second paragraph seems to be asking)?

  • 1
    I have an admiration for the conviction of Roman Catholics that Scripture is to be received within the gift of the Church (and invite any practicing RC to offer a better articulation). One could easily make the case that this teaching has Scriptural support-- "Upon this Rock," etc. One could also say that there are a lot of benefits to this teaching: I weep over the alternative, the disorganized mess that contemporary Lutheranism has become, if one allows "everyone's interpretation" to get a fair share. So I deeply respect the teaching I brought up.
    – pterandon
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 4:19
  • Now are you saying that "opposed teaching of bible in public schools" reflects poorly on RC's? If you actually understand the teaching, it is merely being faithful to (their) definition of what Scripture is. Perhaps in some fundamentalist circles, failure to ask the state to evangelize could be like kitten drowning. My motivation was to explore the irony, that devout Christians in one area would oppose something that in many circles is a litmus test for faithfulness (wanting Protestant -organized school prayer). I thought of the whole story in response to seeing an RC mod candidate.
    – pterandon
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 4:24
  • Again, I think the problem here is insinuating evil motives and then using moderation as a tool to enforce orthodoxy. And my other observation is moderation as a practice of finding the trouble-makers and pecking at them until they explode and deserve to be sent away. No one has come forth yet to state an agreed-upon principle for why a question's motive has to be stated up front.
    – pterandon
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 4:30
  • @pterandon:I didn't think you were being negative toward Catholicism because I've seen your posts, but if you were a new user I would have commented about it on the question as I would have been less certain. I guess it's in the way I read that second paragraph.
    – Ryan Frame
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 12:53

The rest gets long, so here's a summary of the major points:

  • I think your question was fine.

  • I don't think you need to establish your purpose to make the question valid. However, we need to understand the context to answer correctly, and it's perfectly OK for a user to ask for clarification.

  • You simply need to keep it within guidelines, which you did.

  • This whole thing looks like a simple misunderstanding to me

  • Even waxeagle's answer to this question doesn't look like a demand that you provide purpose, but rather an explanation of why he asked the questions in the first place. That's not a minor distinction. (second point above)

Long version:

I personally don't see a problem with the original post from you that @waxeagle commented on. It seems to be addressing "Does X teach Y" which is perfectly within site guidelines.

I do understand waxeagle's objection to using un-referenced sources, but in this particular case, I don't see it as problematic. You seem to be referencing a real article in a real magazine and it sounds legit. It's not like you said something completely ludicrous like "I heard the Billy Graham thinks that flying monkeys will take us to heaven". It seems that you're asking a "real" question, in other words. That's a subjective judgment, but I'd be willing to stand by it.

All told, your question, in my opinion, is no more off-topic or non-constructive than this question. Quality-wise, they seem equivalent, and both fall well within the site guidelines of "Does X teach Y, not is Y true".

That said, when I look a this comments I am also not sure I see anything more than a simple misunderstanding, exacerbated by the fact that Waxeagle is a moderator.

Asking for a citation for a reference is perfectly reasonable. I could get away with it. caseyr57 could get away with it, svidgen could get away with it. Any non-mod could ask such a question and nobody would think twice about it. But when a moderator asks it, it seems a bit more threatening.

Looking at the comment when things seemed to go haywire...

OK, I guess my question is, what are you hoping to learn from this? Is this a simple attempt to find the article? Or is there a purpose behind the question? I feel like if you have a purpose beyond finding the article the trappings of the question rob it of standing. Does that make sense?

I'd like to suggest the following points...

  • Asking questions to determine intent and clarify the purpose of a question is normal behavior. The web is a horrible medium for communications, and it's extremely easy to have simple misunderstandings. Asking questions is the only logical way to find out what each other means. Therefore, Waxeagle's question could merely have been an attempt to understand the context, which is perfectly valid.

However, your response indicates that you took it as somehow an indictment on the quality or suitability of the question, and an annoyance - as in "I've stated my purpose, why the heck are you harassing me about it? Are you singling me out or something? What's your problem"

I've said the purpose twice. (Checks to see how many other people you're asking this of.)

Stepping back, I can see why you'd feel this way. You've been a bit frustrated by several things that you see as unfair treatment by moderators, and by me, personally. I get that, and in that context, it's easy to see why you'd interpret waxeagle's comments like that. I might, too.

All I've got to say is that moderators are also participants here. If any normal, non-moderator site user (except maybe me) were to ask questions trying to clarify context, would you automatically perceive the question as an attack? Would you be as defensive?

So this gets taken to Meta. That's perfect! This is where we address things like this, and this is the appropriate forum.

As I read WaxEagle's answer on this, I can see that his answer makes perfect sense as one user speaking to another user. If Fredsbend or rguy or Rick were to be the one posting it, we'd all see it as simply one user trying to explain his or her perspective.

However, because waxeagle is a moderator and has that little diamond, it seems like he's asserting his authority. It seems like he's saying "Hey, bud, this is the way it is".

Without that diamond by his name, any reasonable person would read his post as "Hey, I'm just trying to explain why I made that comment".

I'd like to humbly suggest that this was a misunderstanding on both ends. Waxeagle simply wanted some clarification, and because he has that diamond, you interpreted it as something else.

Addressing your second question about if you're a moderator, would you have to enforce such a policy, the answer in this case, in my opinion, is no. he wasn't enforcing a policy to begin with. he was asking a question, acting like a normal user, not out to close things down.

But since you brought up moderation... Moderators are the police of a forum like this. Being a mod carries a lot of restrictions. There's a lot less freedom to speak openly about your own opinions. As a mod you'd be required to enforce the site policies, whether you agree with them or not. Just like a police officer is required to enforce laws he or she doesn't like.

Police officers aren't allowed to go around saying "This law is stupid, and that law makes no sense". They are simply expected to enforce the laws on the books. Similarly, moderators must be extra-careful to not speak out against the guidelines that have been established. They can contribute to the formation and change of polices like a normal user. Unlike normal user, however, that participation needs to be tempered with restraint.

Right now, this minute, you or I could get away with saying "I hate the Truth policy, I think it's counter-productive. A moderator doesn't have that luxury for open and honest criticism. A moderator could say something like "I have doubts about whether the Truth policy is int he best interest of the site. For now, it's what the community has decided upon, but you are free to bring up your objections on Meta and in chat to try to change the policy". Moderators can steer the community into the appropriate/allowable actions to let the community change things, but they aren't allowed to make blanket decisions.

As a moderator, you would be expected to enforce the guidelines that exist, not just those that you like.

Ad, getting back to the subject of this post, as a moderator, you're subject to a much higher level of scrutiny. People see your posts and attach weight to them. Waxeagle asking for context in this case is a perfect example. Any normal user (except for me - I am well aware that I raise hackles of some people around here) could have asked the same questions and not have gotten as defensive a response.

However, bottom line - I think your question was fine.

I think that there was a misunderstanding between you and waxeagle. I think that misunderstanding is perfectly normal, unfortunate, but understandable.

I don't think you need to establish your purpose to make the question valid.

You simply need to keep it within guidelines, which you did.

The request to articulate purpose was merely a request from a user with a question - but because that user has a diamond, it was perceived as a demand to explain yourself. A perfectly natural misunderstanding, but a misunderstanding nonetheless.

  • I disagree on the point of not needing to establish a purpose (See my statement "if it's not clear what you hope to learn, then what do you expect to be taught"). But other than that this is a perfect summary of what happened. Were I a normal user I would have cast a close vote on this, and the exact same discussion would have happened (I hope). Because I've got a diamond I exercise more restraint with my close votes (We all do) because they are binding.
    – wax eagle
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 11:29
  • @waxeagle - I don't know how to link to the post I made in the Upper room, but I went to chat on the rest because it was too long for a single comment. I think my wording on this answer was not quite what I meant on that one point... I do see the need for us as the users reading a question. We have to do that in our head anyway to establish context as we're evaluating a question to decide how to handle it (answer, vote up, vote down, flag, close, etc.) and if we aren't sure we're getting it, it's absolutely the right thing to do to ask, as you did, for clarification. Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 19:25
  • I edited to be more clear. Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 19:28
  • For future reference, you can get the "permalink" for chat messages from the little drop down menu on their left side when you hover over them.
    – Caleb
    Commented Jul 20, 2013 at 20:16

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